Lets forget about crowd sourcing, twitch streaming, and things like Patreon for a time. How did the idea of a patron of the arts come to be? Why did it exist? And should we try to bring it back?
patron (n.)From etymoonline.
“a lord-master, a protector,” c. 1300, from Old French patron “patron, protector, patron saint” (12c.) and directly from Medieval Latin patronus “patron saint, bestower of a benefice, lord, master, model, pattern,” from Latin patronus “defender, protector, former master (of a freed slave); advocate,” from pater (genitive patris) “father” (see father (n.)). Meaning “one who advances the cause” (of an artist, institution, etc.), usually by the person’s wealth and power, is attested from late 14c.; “commonly a wretch who supports with insolence, and is paid with flattery” [Johnson]. Commercial sense of “regular customer” first recorded c. 1600. Patron saint (1717) originally was simply patron (late 14c.).
To pull out the part that I want to focus on is, ” Latin patronus “defender, protector, former master (of a freed slave); advocate,” from pater (genitive patris) “father” (see father (n.)). Meaning “one who advances the cause” (of an artist, institution, etc.) “. I like the idea of a person who defends or works to advance the cause of an artist or institution.
I was recently interested in the history of the piano. I was thinking about how it was invented and wondered if new instruments were still being funded and invented. As I dug into the history of the piano, learning about the harpsichord, how it was refined by Bartolomeo Cristofori, and funded by the Medici family, I started to read more about other inventions that they funded, including opera, as well as being patrons for individuals (well known ones too), like were patrons of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Machiavelli and Galileo.
I was thinking recently about the invention of the needle and how long we as a species have been stitching fabrics or hides together to form clothing. Will we ever know who invented the needle or how it happened? Probably not, but can we teach the path towards innovation, can we help education young folks on the journey that great inventors take? I think that in current education systems we teach what the great inventions are, but not how they came to be. Would instituting pure patronage help teach that journey and inspire new innovation? When creatives don’t have to worry about food, shelter or a livelihood, does better innovation come about?
Then I come to the question of who can be these new, pure patrons? Who has the funds to do this and will they? Can I as a individual that doesn’t make an excessive income, inspire, help and support those creators that could change the world with new inventions?
As an artist myself, I’ve felt that it would be quite an amazing life to be able to pursue my art (whatever that may be at the time) without having to worry about “making a living.” Instead I make a living in order to do what I want on in my spare time, lead a comfortable life, and am making the bet that I can buy the freedom to do more of what I want at some point. Maybe that’s a bad bet. Can I help others avoid those same, poor odds?
The only thing I patronize these days… or before covid, was bars.